Why You Should Consider a Windows Computer and Laptop Buying Advice

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Why do we recommend having a Windows computer for CJA panel attorneys?

One of the great modern-day debates is Windows versus Apple. Like college football rivalries (think Alabama versus Auburn or UCLA versus USC), this discussion can generate intense emotions on both sides of the aisle. Add into the mix the introduction of Chromebooks (using a Chrome OS operating system), and it can be difficult for CJA panel attorneys to decide what to use in their practice.

For this conversation, let’s talk about laptops. When talking to people outside of the federal criminal defense world, we would usually say choosing a laptop depends on personal preference. You should pick the laptop that makes sense to you and allows you to be most productive. If you find you are more productive with a Mac, that’s great. People may be drawn to one operating system or the other for any number of reasons. Typically, the most important factor in choosing an operating system is which one you have used the most.  The mechanics of how that system functions will seem more intuitive to you, because you have years of experience using it.

However, for federal criminal cases, we suggest having a Windows machine available to you.

Why?

Three reasons:

  1. The Department of Justice, as well as most law enforcement agencies, use Windows computers. The systems they use to manage evidence and electronically stored information (ESI) will, by default, work on Windows machines. As a result, when they produce discovery to the defense, it will work (usually) on Windows machines.
  2. Several important software programs and digital forensics programs do not work on Macs. Examples include dtSearch, CaseMap, Cellebrite Reader (a free viewer that can speed up review of cellphone dumps) and FTK Imager (a free tool to look at computer images the government seized, so that you can see what the computer looked like to the person who used it). Now you may not need to use these tools (there are work arounds or alternatives), but it is a limitation. In addition, while many file formats can be opened on either Windows or Apple machines, such as Word documents, PDFs and PowerPoint files, there are other file types that do not work natively on Macs. For example, certain proprietary audio and video files can only be played on applications that work in Windows. Now that all discovery being provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office is encrypted in transit, they often use tools designed to function on Windows machines and not Macs. Of course, you can try to work it out with the government, so you receive something that is Mac-friendly (and many times they will be accommodating), but it is not their default procedure.
  3. There are other costs associated with Macs. For one, PCs are often cheaper than their Mac counterparts.  Additionally, programs offered for a discount to CJA panel lawyers by the Defender Services program typically are Windows based.

Does this mean we are saying you should abandon your Mac? No. Plenty of us use both Windows and Macintosh computers at work or at home.  What we are saying is that you should consider having a Windows computer available to you to assist you in your CJA cases, as it can save you time and money in the long run.

Which laptop should I buy?

When it comes to buying a Windows laptop, there are hundreds of options.  The following minimum criteria should be considered when purchasing a new laptop:

  • 12.5 to 14-inch size screen – typically a good balance between usability and portability. This assessment is something to consider. If you are going to be mobile, go on the smaller side. If you are going to more stationary, consider the larger screen;
  • At least a Core i5 CPU;
  • At least 8 gigabytes (GB) of RAM;
  • Screen resolution of 1920 x 1080;
  • At least 500 SSD (solid state drive);
  • 8+ hours batter life;
  • Windows Professional – which gives you Bitlocker, an easy way to encrypt files and folders.

If you can afford to spend a little more, adding to these minimum specs options can result in better performance. For myself, I like to have at least a machine with Core i7 CPU, 16 gigabytes of RAM. Many of our colleagues have found that if they have a more robust machine, problems they had scrolling through large PDF files or viewing proprietary video files in their older, less powerful machines went away. However, price is always the top issue so shop around and find what works for you and your budget.